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What is the history of the housing developments surrounding part of Greenfield Lake? Were they once military housing?

Ben Steelman

Garden Lake Estates was formerly Lake Village.

The Lake Village, Lake Forest and Greenfield Terrace developments date from World War II. (Some parts of Greenfield Terrace are even older.) They were, however, intended for civilians — defense workers, mainly at the the N.C. Shipbuilding Co. shipyard, located where the N.C. State Port facility now is.

During the Second World War, Wilmington suffered extreme crowding as workers flocked here to wartime jobs and as families followed servicemen to nearby Camp Davis (at present-day Holly Ridge) and Camp Lejeune. From a peacetime population of around 33,000 in early 1941, the city swelled to hold as many as 120,000 people at the war’s height — a total that all of New Hanover County would not exceed again until the mid-1990s.

To try to meet the demand for living space, the Wilmington Housing Authority and federal officials embarked on a local building boom. Founded in May 1938, the Wilmington authority was the first municpal public housing agency organized in North Carolina; before the war, it had already completed 216-unit Charles T. Nesbitt Courts development (reserved for whites in that segregated era) and the 241-unit New Brooklyn homes (for blacks), renamed the Robert R. Taylor homes in 1942. (Charles T. Nesbitt was a Wilmington doctor and a pioneering public health official in the early 1900s; Robert R. Taylor, a Wilmington native, was a prominent African-American architect.)

Built in 1942 with federal funds, and originally consisting of 475 units, Lake Forest was reserved for defense workers. It was unique as “demountable housing” — wooden structures that were intended to be easy to disassemble and rebuild elsewhere to meet shifting housing needs. Ironically, many of those temporary houses remained firmly in place more than 50 years later, noted historian Kristin Szylvian, formerly an associate professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and now at Western Michigan University.)

Lake Village consisted fo some 472 prefabricated units — each with 720 square feet of space — shipped to Wilmington by rail and assembled on 50 acres north and south of Greenfield Street.

More substantial were the Greenfield Terrace apartments, originally some 150 cinder-block duplexes along Greenfield Street.

To serve this growing community, Szylvian said, federal workers built a strip complex along the 1000 block of Greenfield Street. Completed in June 1942, it originally contained a grocery, drug store, barber shop and luncheonette. In business 24 before Hanover Center opened in 1956, Greenfield Plaza strip is technically Wilmington’s oldest shopping center.

In 1947, some 584 units of Lake Forest and Greenfield Terrace were sold to Veterans Homes Inc., a non-profit cooperative, as housing for returning veterans.

Lake Village remained in federal hands but was sold off to private interests in 1955. As late as 1974, units were renting for $54 per month. By then the properties were starting to deteriorate; private investors took over renovation with federal funding in 1978. Two years later, however, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was forced to foreclose. In 1983, a new set of private interests — Claude Whifield, Carroll Stephenson and W.E. Blackmon of Smithfield — bought the complex and completed the renovation. (Forty units were so decayed, they had to be demolished.) The development was rechristened Garden Lake Estates to reflect its refurbished image.

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2 Responses to “ What is the history of the housing developments surrounding part of Greenfield Lake? Were they once military housing?”

  1. On February 28, 2010 at 1:14 am John Walker wrote:

    Your article on housing developments around Greenfield Lake brought back fond memories. My wife and I moved from the former Riverside Apartments, near the site of the WWII shipyards, to Lake Forest in early 1949, shortly after I returned from the U.S. Navy. We lived there until August 1953.

    I note a slight discrepancy in Ms. Szylvian’s information. She states that the Lake Forest units were “ ‘demountable housing’ – wooden structures that were intended to be easy to disassemble and rebuild elsewhere to meet shifting housing needs.” She is correct that Lake Village and some of the other developments in that area were of wooden and asbestos siding construction on concrete pillars, but Lake Forest duplex units were very much “permanent” cinder-block construction on concrete slabs, fronting on Greenfield Street and reaching back into the development facing Greenfield Lake, as ours did on Pinecrest Parkway.

    By 1949 Lake Forest had been sold to Veterans Homes, Inc, which in turn sold the units first to returning veterans and then to others as available. We made a modest down-payment, around $200, as I recall, with monthly payments of around $40.00 which included maintenance as needed on the unit. A portion of the monthly payment was applied to the principal and if the purchaser kept the home for 20-25 years he became owner of the unit. After that, a small monthly charge was assessed for the maintenance. If a purchaser moved before the 20-25 years, the unit went back to Veterans Homes. If a buyer was then available, the original purchaser’s down-payment was refunded, as mine was. If no purchaser was available, the down-payment was forfeited back to Veterans Homes.

    I often say that the Lake Forest plan was the original concept of the present day condominium. The rent/purchase plan worked the same way.

    I don’t know how the sale of present day units in Lake Forest is handled, but a very dear friend of mine lived in her unit for forty-five to fifty years and upon her death willed her unit to her son who owns it to this day.

    (This is my second submission. I note that from your article today that “Your Reporter” web site is having trouble receiving information recently which apparently was the case of my original. Thanks for your daily column. I moved from Wilmington to Jacksonville, FL in 1960 with ACL, now after retirement live in TN but still read the Star News daily.)

    John Walker

  2. On November 6, 2010 at 10:00 am Pat Burton wrote:

    I was born in Wilmington in 1941 and lived there until 1981. My uncle worked at the Shipyard and lived at Lake Forest. I believe your research is correct and thorough. Thanks for providing this information to those who are interested.

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